Naima Morelli

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Tag "southeast asia"

JakkaiSiributr
The webmagazine Cobo has just published my interview with Thai artist Jakkai Siributr. This particular conversation has really provided clarity to shed new light on the whole month-long reportage I did in Thailand at the beginning of the year.

I have found this happens every reportage. There is always one conversation that reveals a particular key to read the reality your are exploring, or throws in a few challenges and reflections that stay with me long after the field research is finished.

Often that key comes from a figure – like Jakkai in this case – who has extensive knowledge of both Eastern and Western contemporary art practices, and is able to bridge the two through the narrative of his life.

There are few others interview to go to conclude the material I have collected with this reportage in Thailand, and can’t wait to share it more with you. But for the time being…

Here is the link to the interview

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Ruangsak

CoBo has just published one of my favourite interview from my reportage in Thailand, the one to Bangkok-based artist Ruangsak Anuwatwimon.

Ruangsak feels compelled to fight for environmental awareness. His poetic installations take on this cause, revealing the brutality of humans towards the Earth, buried under a beautiful surface.

Here is the link to the interview

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SEAPavVenice2019

Hong-Kong based website and platform for collectors CoBo Social has just published my review of the Southeast Asian Pavilions at the 2019 Venice Biennale. I looked at the different national propositions with interest and a bit of a critical eye as well.

Here is the link to the review

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Daylight dystopia

In our worse dystopian imagination, brought to fruition by filmmakers and artists, we imagine the cities of the future being an endless continuation of buildings and city lights, from the steamy Metropolis to – moving to the ‘80s – the cities of Ghost in The Shell, or Neon Tokyo from Akira. Asian mega-cities provided a good model in this respect. The urban landscape of Blade Runner for example was inspired by a particular part of Kwaloon, also known as the Walled City. This was an area of incredible density, a human anthill, picturesque and inhuman at the same time. In 1994, Kwaloon was demolished. Visitors eager to see the ruins of this mythical place will instead find a park with gardens, floral walks, ponds and pavilions. The future was not as we imagined, if not only for the lack of flying cars which many of us lamented, but also because it doesn’t look as evil as we thought. Then came the daylight dystopia. As a child, I remember approaching this slightly less suffocating concept in the Disney PK comics. This was a superhero series of Donald Duck set in a futuristic future. In a particular episode, PK travelled to the future to find that instead of the tower he operated from – the Ducklair tower created by a tech genius – there was a garden. Our beloved flying cars came in handy in that comic in order to reach the heights of that vertical city, whose buildings have gardens on top, another idea which is being implemented in the green architectural world. An idea that has been developed by many architectural firms reimagining the future of the urban landscape as we will see. The palaces of the old city will be pillars, or comprised into other buildings, and of course we have plenty of examples of this as well. The final look of this city is a green aspirational environment which will preserve history and won’t look as dingy and ugly as we imagined dystopian cities to be.

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Funding Shaping the Work of Artists

Let’s go back to The Substation for a second. We mentioned that when the space started in 1990, it was the very first art space in Singapore, before SAM, before the Esplanade and much earlier than the National Gallery. In the narrative of the local art world, the existence of this place encouraged many people to gather to appreciate and make art, music or writing in a way that couldn’t be found anywhere else in Singapore. This was a sign for the government, who acknowledged the situation, observed a spontaneous surge of creativity and cultural momentum, and decided it was high time to open up an art museum five years later. “We were actually forcing to government to shape policies in some way last time,” said Alan Oei during our conversation: “But once they shaped the policies, we kind of have been sucked into their policies and we haven’t made them change anything for a long time.”

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Lim Tzay-Chuen’s elliptical approach

It’s a matter of fact that when a concept is so deeply embedded in a society, often artists tackle it not as a separate topic, but in its many manifestations. As Tan Boon Hui Calvin, Vice President, Global Arts & Cultural Programs and Director, Asia Society Museum, NY, à Asia Society, puts it : “The best work engaging with the concept of bureaucracy is the elliptical in approach. I honestly do not think it will be as blunt as ‘bureaucracy’.” One example of this elliptical approach is the work of Lim Tzay Chuen.

The artist describes his work as being concerned with “offering” solutions to possible problems, becoming about administration and organisation – aspects that are an integral part of the art world, but are usually left out from the official narrative. For the Biennale of Sydney, he designed and coordinated an open proposition to the public: “Enterprising” persons who got hold of certain pages from the 2004 Biennale catalogues would enjoy the privilege of using the Artspace Gallery 1, AUD $4000, 4 nights of hotel accommodation and official inclusion as one of the invited “artists” to the Biennale.

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Take a guess: what is the opposite of artwork? It is paperwork. Whereas the artwork is open-ended, a spreadsheet is self-contained. In other words, the artwork is an object that dispels the notion of identity of objects; a notion which nonetheless is so useful for us to go around the world. We think about a bottle based on its function of containing and pouring liquid. But try to go to Swanston Street, Melbourne on Saturday night, and you’ll see how that a bottle can become a dangerous weapon. For the same reason, we are always very careful to not let kids pick up objects that are potentially dangerous, because children are oblivious to the categories that us adults create for objects and things.
While living outside the categories in everyday life is potentially dangerous – you’d be called a crazy person – the blurring and crossing over of categories is what allows creativity and imagination to happen. Kids are imaginative because they are ultimately approaching things as they are. Infinite. The truth is that things do offer themselves to ambiguity. Contemporary art is particularly apt to prove that.

While ambiguity is inherent in all objects within our reality, we have countless examples of artists that emphasize that notion in their work. To remain in contemporary Southeast Asia, think about Indonesian artist Wiyoga Muhardanto, whose entire process consists of combining two contrasting meanings – for example merging an Apple computer design to an old typewriter, or fusing a fashionable bag with old saggy skin – thus opening up multiple interpretations for the object. We have of course other examples in the milestones of art history, such as Duchamps’ upside-down urinal or Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. Not by chance, Magritte was part of the surrealist movement, which was all about playing around with objects, subverting their meaning. Surrealists were also very keen on studying dreams – that door to our psyche where things happen outside of logic and the rational realm. In that world, the categories crumble. Our way of thinking about things by free association becomes the reality that happens before our eyes, which is a form of truth – as often madness is.

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Sarah Choo Jing

I love the work of Sarah Choo Jing. It is elegant and she clearly shares a passion for my favourite director, Hong Kar Wai. The artist herself gives me the impression of living in her own imaginary, which is something I can highly empathise with. At the 2017 Venice Biennale show, she was elegant as ever, wearing a blue cheongsam with a pair of silver shoes which looked as if they were right from Grace Kelly’s wardrobe. Her attire made her look like a noble Chinese woman on a visit to the West. Being in Venice, another celebrated city port, this looked like the possible start of a story.

When I interviewed her in Singapore at the end of 2015, she carved out a time to meet me amid the shots of the production of her new video piece called “Four Days”, set in a prestigious hotel near Chinatown. Actually, it was unclear to me if it was the lack of time to dictate the conditions for this meeting, or if it was rather a wise choice to allow me to participate in the production process and get some juice for the story. At one point the artist admitted that the circumstances were quite fortuitous.

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Vincent Leow

It is June 2018 as I’m writing these lines, and a few days ago, browsing through the internet, some news hit my eye. One drawing of Vincent Leow was removed from an exhibition the Esplanade, a popular alley for the arts in Singapore, with the accusation of “bestiality”. The censored sketch depicted a naked individual sitting astride a giant chicken. According to the conservative Facebook group “Singaporeans Defending Marriage and Family” the naked man was having sex with the animal. The general concern revolves around the fact that this was public area, with kids walking past the exhibition to go to the play centre. At first, the Esplanade took a neutral stance and said that everyone could “draw their own interpretations of a drawing that is not a realistic rendering.” Following a discussion with the artist, the art centre decided that it would be best to remove the piece from the exhibition and said that “This is solely Esplanade’s error of judgment”. This caused a big buzz in the artistic community in Singapore, and was seen as an episode of censorship and a sign of an increasingly conservative society.
The author of the sketch, Vincent Leow, would probably be discouraged to see that, since he first started with his provocative works and the society hasn’t opened up since. Quite the contrary. Vincent hailed, like Lee Wen and Amanda Heng, from The Artists Village, the arts collective spearheaded by Tang Da Wu and inspired by Western movements such as conceptual art and Fluxus, which emerged in New York in the ‘60s. The group detached from the idealist watercolours and academic realist style that preceded the late ‘80s, as being really contemporary and bringing international tendencies to the art world, while speaking of the conflicts and tensions of the society at the time.

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Amanda Heng

Taking a sip of tea in the courtyard sheltered by the white colonial walls of the Singapore Art Museum, I had no doubt. When I get older, I want to be cool like Amanda Heng. This double-braided lady sitting on the other end of the table is an inspiring and yet down-to-earth artist. Despite her friendly nature, she gave a huge contribution to the evolution of Singaporean contemporary art. In the Lion City, economic and technological progress are achieved thanks to a pragmatic government and toiling on the part of citizens. Amanda Heng witnessed the rapid transformation in both the art scene and the society art at large. Her work is a profound comment on this rapid modernisation and a compassionate observation about those who were left behind.

Amanda Heng was one of the early members of the seminal art collective ‘The Artist Village’ and experimented with performance art and installation. When she was a little girl in school, she was always performing on stage. In the school curriculum there were dances, songs, opera, and they were learning Italian songs. “I guess I already had this in me, and it allowed me to feel the beauty of certain things, although I didn’t know what art was about then.”

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loredanaMAAIAM

CoBo Social has just published my new article where I discuss the show DIASPORA Exit, Exile, Exodus at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai with the curator Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, as well as the importance of tackling geopolitical change in Southeast Asia from a variety of angles.

Here is the link to the piece

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supernatural2

For the Hong Kong webmagazine and collectors’ platform CoBo I usually write about Indonesian and Singaporean artists, and the dynamics of their art systems. It goes without saying that the two art environments are highly connected. Sometimes an event or a show happens which remixes the way the two art systems interact, and that’s precisely what happened with the Super/Natural show in Yogyakarta, by Gajah Gallery.

In this piece I look at this pioneering operation, talking with the gallerist Jasdeep Sandhu and the two curators, trying to ponder what this show meant, and if it can have a legacy for the evolution of both the Singaporean and the Indonesian art systems.

Here’s the link to the piece

 

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